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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Hospital Ship Maunganui

Hospital Ship Maunganui

On 22 May 1 NZHS Maunganui arrived at Port Tewfik on her first voyage to Egypt as a hospital ship. Representations by the GOC 2 NZEF and the DDMS 2 NZEF to Army Headquarters in New Zealand had reinforced the arguments put forward by the DGMS (Army and Air), Colonel Bowerbank, in April 1940, and renewed up till September 1940, on the need for a hospital ship. Although Colonel Bowerbank's appreciation of April 1940 clearly set out the need for a hospital ship, any positive action was deferred until it was known what campaigning 2 NZEF was likely to undertake. As it happened, New Zealand did have its own hospital ship in time to evacuate to New Zealand the casualties from Crete, but this position was reached only by expeditious work in the conversion of the ship and the fortunate procurement of equipment, some of which was not available in New Zealand. Had the Division been engaged in the Libyan campaign of 1940 and suffered casualties, the need for a hospital ship would have been severely felt. (The British hospital ship Somersetshire had transported invalids to New Zealand from the Middle East in March 1941, following on two small drafts of 93 and 50 taken by hospital ship as far as India and Australia respectively.)

The Maunganui was a ship of 7527 tons and, though thirty years old, was larger than both the Maheno and Marama which were the New Zealand hospital ships of the First World War. She was fitted page 224 with 379 cots, a number which was later reduced to 365 – 22 fracture cots, 84 single tier cots, and 139 two-tier cots. Some of the cots were of the swinging type.

The theatre block was exceptionally well appointed and comprised the main theatre, plaster room, and rooms for X-ray, sterilising, massage, laboratory, dispensary, and diathermy, with a dental surgery nearby. All essential lighting was duplicated on emergency circuits and the whole theatre block was ideally situated forward under the bridge. The electric lifts were also connected to the emergency circuit. An adequate hot and cold water-supply to wards was fed from a huge tank specially installed to hold between 700 and 800 tons of water. There were refrigerators in every ward. Altogether, the ship was impressively equipped. Some of the special equipment had not been available in New Zealand and was secured urgently from America by Brigadier Bowerbank by special authority of the Prime Minister in order to expedite the conversion of the ship to medical needs. At Port Tewfik HS Maunganui was described by the commander of a British hospital ship as the best-appointed hospital ship he had seen during the war, and Colonel MacCormick reported that it was the unanimous opinion of all officers from the GOC down that New Zealand had every reason to be proud of its hospital ship. The ship was staffed by 104 medical officers, nursing sisters, and orderlies under the command of Colonel Murray,1 with Miss Lewis2 as Matron.

The ship was held at Port Tewfik until 10 June in order to take a number of the wounded from the campaigns of Greece and Crete. Hospitals were instructed to board for return to New Zealand any patients likely to occupy hospital beds for longer than three months. On 10 June 338 New Zealand invalids were embarked, as well as 40 Australians. The Australian authorities had taken fifty New Zealand invalids on HS Manunda in November 1940 and had agreed that some 2 NZEF invalids would be taken on each voyage of HS Wanganella, so it was a pleasure to be able to reciprocate on HS Maunganui. The co-operation of the Australian and New Zealand authorities in sharing hospital ship facilities was a feature of the medical services throughout the war. HS Maunganui evacuated invalids from the Middle East regularly throughout the war and was page 225 assisted by the Netherlands hospital ship Oranje as well as the Wanganella.

1 Col D. N. W. Murray, CMG, DSO, m.i.d.; born Auckland, 28 Aug 1876; medical practitioner; South African War 1900, Corporal, RAMC; 1 NZEF 1914–19, Egypt, Gallipoli, France, Germany; CO Mounted Fd Amb; CO 2 Fd Amb; President Travelling Medical Board, Anzac Corps, France; ADMS NZ Div, Germany; Commandant, Second Army Medical School, France; CO Military Hospital, Auckland, 1919; OC Troops HS Maunganui Apr 1941–Feb 1942; died Auckland, 4 Sep 1945.

2 Matron Miss E. M. Lewis, RRC, m.i.d.; (now Mrs Rudd); born England, 14 Feb 1882; Matron, Blenheim Hospital; served First World War Dec 1915–Jan 1920 (Egypt and England); Trentham Hosp 1920–21; Matron HS Maunganui Apr 1941–Feb 1942, Aug 1942–Nov 1944; Trentham, 1944–45.